Davis: Texas honey production affected by heat, drought | Life style

Texas honey production was expected to be below average this season due to the state’s lack of soil moisture and extreme heat, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension entomologist and Beekeeping 101 instructor, Bexar County, said key wildflower bloom periods in some parts of the state have been delayed by the early arrival of extreme heat, combined with soil moisture and a lack of forage for bees.

Keck, studies have shown that bees’ foraging activity decreases when temperatures reach 100 degrees. The low volume of available nectar-producing plants and inefficient foraging capacity due to high temperatures resulted in poor honey production.

Keck said this season’s low yields are due to the prolonged recovery of Texas bee hives from Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, followed by a severe drought.

“Some parts of the state received rain at the right time, but most parts of the state did not have nectar for the bees to bring and store for honey,” he said. “The rains of the last few months may have resulted in reduced honey flow, which should be happening now, but we suspect honey production is down again this year.”

Keck said it is difficult to accurately estimate honey production in Texas this year, especially due to the lack of available data, but official reports show production declining in 2021.

The USDA’s 2020 honey report showed that Texas has 157,000 honey-producing bee colonies, contributing 8.9 million pounds to total U.S. production at a value of $17 million. The total US production was 147.5 million pounds for more than $299 million.

The USDA reported that 7.6 million pounds of honey were produced in 2021 by 137,000 colonies located in Texas. Despite the low production numbers, of the 126.4 million pounds of honey produced nationally at a value of $321.2 million, honey was valued at $17.6 million.

In a September 28 score report, the USDA said there was too little information to estimate the 2022 season in Texas. According to the report, extreme heat and drought in the state were the main reasons for the lack of activity and reporting.

The report indicated that truck availability was not a problem due to lack of honey stock. Keck said there are fewer COVID-related issues this season, such as equipment and container shortages.

Strong sales of nucleus hives, or nucs, which are smaller hives of queen and worker bees that can build into production hives, are a good sign that Texas manufacturing is recovering, Keck said.

“I think we’ve had two tough years for bees and beekeepers because of the extreme cold event in 2021 and the extreme heat and drought this year,” he said. “Commercial growers are waiting to sell the bees, which is a good sign.

“Hopefully they can come back, but a lot will depend on beekeeper management over the winter and rain heading into the spring.”

Beekeepers in Texas fall into three categories — hobbyists, sidekeepers and commercial producers, Keck said.

Hobbyists are backyard beekeepers who typically keep fewer than 10 hives to meet the Texas agricultural property tax exemption and/or to produce honey for households, share locally, and/or sell. Sideliners typically have 50-250 hives while also maintaining a full-time job.

Keck said interest in hobbyist beekeeping has increased recently due to COVID-19 and the use of hives for property tax exemptions for small plots of land.

The Texas Apiculture Inspectorate only monitors beekeepers with 400 or more hives. The fact that hobbyists and outsiders are not included in the report makes it difficult to estimate total honey production statewide, Keck said.

Commercial beekeepers keep colonies of 500 or more. Their livelihood depends on beekeeping and moving large numbers of hives around the state and country to pollinate crops and/or produce honey.

For example, a commercial grower in Texas might deliver hives to the Rio Grande Valley to pollinate watermelon fields before moving the same hives to the Texas plains to pollinate cotton at the end of the growing season. They can then move their colonies to South Dakota or North Dakota for alfalfa honey production during the dog days of summer.

“Problems like varroa mites need to be managed year-round and making sure the hives have enough food, but especially going into winter after a summer like this,” he said. “Beekeepers will close the hives around Thanksgiving and open them around Valentine’s Day, and we can only hope to open the hives to better conditions for spring bloom.”

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